BY SAVANNA J. BUCKNER
“Make me a mystic, immediately.” So writes Flannery O’Connor in “A Prayer Journal,” set for release in November, although the New Yorker published excerpts from it earlier this month. The work collects the thoughts and prayers of college-aged O’Connor during her studies at the University of Iowa. For fans of O’Connor’s literature, which is marked by the grim and grotesque, the book promises unique insights into the heart of the developing writer.
O’Connor’s ironic comment and the darkness of her work point to a challenge of engaging in the New Evangelization called for by Blessed John Paul II. The New Evangelization means bringing the message of salvation in Christ, His mercy and hope, to a dark world.
Yet, for the world to accept the light of Christ, it must first recognize its own darkness. In a world that thinks that earthly utopia is possible – if only we cure disease, end war, lengthen our lifespan, and so on – the bad news of original sin may have to be revealed before we can share the good news of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.
O’Connor’s short stories starkly present sin and the hypocrisy of man, as even the title of her well-known story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” illustrates. From the con artist, Bible salesman to the murderous misfit, O’Connor’s ugly characters shock the reader out of complacency. In depicting the repulsive consequences of original sin and the importance of self-realization, she conveys the truth about the human person and his need for conversion. Because her writing so compellingly vanquishes lies, it is lasting, reaches a diverse audience and, importantly, participates in the goals of the New Evangelization.
Mysticism and conversion don’t come in an instant, as O’Connor wryly acknowledges. The New Evangelization demands from us a patient commitment, first to recognize and reject lies about man’s nature, and then to present with conviction the reality of sin and grace.
How we partake in the call of the New Evangelization to battle the lies of the world is largely personal and requires discernment. But at the heart of engaging in the New Evangelization, there must be patience – a peaceful serenity ultimately possible only in Christ. Patience is, as philosopher Josef Pieper put it, the “radiant essence of final freedom from harm.” Such patience enables us to radiate conviction in Christ, empowering our participation in the New Evangelization.